Make use of tie-ups to savor city’s past

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Make use of tie-ups to savor city’s past

September 28, 1995
By Pamela Cressey

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The north face of the 1856 stone railroad bridge over Hooff's Run built with gray sandstone has a semicircular arch rising 10 ½ feet and spanning more than 21 feet. Photo credit--Alexandria Archaeology.
Have you been held up in traffic on Duke Street coming into Alexandria recently? The bridge spanning the railroad tracks by Union Station is under repair and is causing some clogging in the mornings. September has brought an increase of cars traveling east on Duke Street, and accidents on the beltway and beyond have rerouted traffic through Alexandria creating even more delays.

What does a sane person do while sitting in this infuriating traffic jam--listen to books-on-tape, meditate, do isometrics, rock out with a new CD, or go crazy? Consider historic sight seeing of old West End village which once extended along Duke Street between Shuter's Hill (near Callahan Drive) and Peyton Street.

Although most of the village is gone now, you can still see the brick Bruin Slave "Jail" at Duke and Reinekers Lane as well as the Orange and Alexandria Railroad Bridge over Hooff's Run. Just as you drive east beyond Holland Lane, look to your right after the tall office buildings and before the Upscale Resale store. You will see the original stone bridge, the last surviving historic bridge in Alexandria.

The best way to see the bridge is to walk down the old railroad bed parallel to Duke Street (Wilkes Street extended). You can walk right over the bridge, even though the train tracks have now been removed. If the water is low in Hooff's Run, you can walk under the bridge. Good vantage points of the bridge's south face are in Alexandria National Cemetery and the African American Heritage Park.

When we began studying the bridge five years ago we wondered about its age and how it had survived. Dr. Steve Shephard and I began studying the bridge's construction, while Keith Barr uncovered historical records. James Massey and Jere Gibber continued the study and prepared a nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places.

Initially we thought that the bridge might have dated to the year when the O&ARR started service. Richard Marshall Scott of Bush Hill Plantation wrote in his journal, July 4, 1851: "We witnessed for the first time today, a train passing over the Orange and Alexandria Railroad carrying about 600 people who were going on excursion...presented a very pretty sight and to me one of great interest."

But the 1856 O&ARR annual report stated that "The arch Culvert at Hooff's Run has been finished" at a cost of $457.18. This original section is 28 feet 3 inches wide. The spandrel face is gray sandstone, which may have come from Little Falls, laid in random-range ashlar. The arch has 33 voussoirs in rock-faced ashlar with a keystone. Some of the stonework has been disturbed by a 20th century wood trestle that was once attached. Since the Duke Street bridge repair may be completed by the end of 1995, don't delay seeing the historic sights before the traffic improves!

Steve and I realized that the south and north faces of the bridge were constructed differently. Had the bridge been expanded and when?

Dr. Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.